For those of you who are unfamiliar with Marianne and/or her work, she published her first book, Legacy of Love, with Naiad Press and can still vividly remember her first phone call from Barbara Grier. Marianne went on to publish three more novels with Naiad before moving to Bella Books and publishing her first Lambda Literary Award finalist, Mirrors. In 2004, she helped found Bywater Books and has now published three books there.
Before becoming a best-selling author, Marianne spent 25 years teaching school and coaching in Michigan. Yes, she was a gym teacher. She was a founder of the Michigan Women’s Major Fastpitch Association and its president for ten years. Marianne is also active in equal rights. In 1973, she won a precedent-setting case in a Michigan court that established equal pay for women coaches.
After taking early retirement, she worked as a photojournalist and built a house with her father. In her spare time, she thought it would be cool to write (bless her heart! –Andi). Eight books later, she splits her time between her publishing responsibilities of co-owning Bywater Books and writing.
You can find all of Marianne’s books at Bywater, which acquired all the rights to her Bella titles. To have a look at Marianne’s catalogue, click this here link. The list of her work is: Legacy of Love, Love in the Balance, Never Ending, Dawn of the Dance, Dance in the Key of Love, and three Lambda Literary Award finalists, Mirrors, Under the Witness Tree, and For Now, For Always.
From my own interactions with Marianne–and I consider myself fortunate to have met her in person and spoken with her at length about a number of things–she is passionate about everything she does. The blog she offers here deals with a topic that has hit us all pretty hard the past month, and it’s a subject that Marianne wrote about in her book Mirrors. She is passionate about this, as well, and I’m honored that she’s sharing her thoughts here with us at Women and Words.
Please welcome Marianne Martin.
I want to thank Andi for her invitation and for being so patient. It’s nice to finally be here. First I’d like to give a quick background, and then I promise to tie it to writing.
On my watch as a public school teacher I lost a student to suicide. He was there every day – strong and healthy, good-looking and smart – just needing to know, wanting support, a little advice. Courteous, sweet, any parent’s joy. A day later he was gone. Put a gun to his head and stopped the pain. A decision made, I don’t know when. No more need to know, no need for support, no advice useful anymore. It was over, forever done, no second chances for either of us. There was nothing left for me to do but cry.
Could I have made the difference, answered the questions, helped to stop the pain? It may have only taken a phone number, a web site, guidance to the right group, just confirmation that he was not alone and that things were going to be all right. I’ll never know.
I tugged harder on the handcuffs after that – the ones that didn’t allow me to counsel, that made me fear losing my job, and kept me from speaking any louder against the status quo. I began to bend the rules, defy orders, take risks. I wanted to help. I wanted to keep my job. I did what I could. The rules didn’t change, neither did the risks. I wasn’t just a teacher, I was a lesbian and no one could know.
I don’t teach anymore, I write. My choice, the handcuffs hurt too much, the stress too great. Hopefully, I still educate. I want to. But, mostly I want to say what’s on my mind, what’s in my heart, what couldn’t be said for so many years. And now I can.
But if I were teaching now, in 2010, I would not have that freedom. Still. I had hoped that a book I wrote in 2001, Mirrors, a story of a gay teacher trapped between helping a bullied student and keeping her job, would have become a story of our history, of how far we have come. Instead, it’s message, re-released nine years later, is one of failure, a testimony to the deep roots of homophobia and intolerance.
So, here we are in 2010 and the bullying continues, both emotional and physical. It is allowed. Students, gay and straight, are afraid to go to school, afraid to open their computers, need us to stop the pain. Many will do anything to avoid the taunts, the physical threats, the mocking that too many teachers, administrators, and other students witness and turn away from. Sadly, in order to stand against the intolerance you must be a hero and stand against the norm. Still, in 2010, gay teachers in districts all across the country dare not counsel a gay teen, or in any way allow their sexuality to become suspect, because they can be fired merely on suspicion. We can’t let this continue. We must continue writing about it, talking about it, doing something about it.
My sister-in-law, a straight teacher, stepped up to the plate in her school to sponsor a chapter of the Gay/Straight Alliance because the students had been trying for months to find a volunteer. The other teachers had refused participation because of fear they would be labeled as gay themselves. Under her leadership, the club flourished until a new principal shut it down. They fought hard to have it reinstated, but had to change the name of the club to Diversity Club in order to do so. And still, in 2010, gay students must sneak into club meetings like this from neighboring schools because their schools will not allow such an organization.
I am appalled and saddened by the lack of progress, the lack of concern in protecting our most vulnerable children. And I’m equally appalled at the lack of respect and protection of our talented and dedicated gay teachers. The ignorant fear that feeds this continued intolerance, the last sacred intolerance, must be addressed.
And it is, by some students, some teachers, some school districts. But some isn’t all, and all students, all teachers, should have the same protection and rights. I applaud those celebrities, who already have the media’s eyes and ears, who are speaking out so strongly and passionately. And we must do the same in whatever way we can.
Years ago, I was covering a speech by Col. Grethe Cammermeyer for a newspaper, and at the end of her speech she took questions from the audience. One woman stood up, clearly touched by the message of stopping the intolerance, and asked what she as a closeted teacher could do. Ms Cammermeyer’s answer was to bring one straight person home to dinner. It starts there, with each of us doing what we can, and the collective impact will be immeasurable. We can write books, speak out on blogs, confront insulting comments and jokes. We must take the risk when we can, and when we can’t, we need to bring someone home for dinner.
“It’s only by challenging others with our humanity that we will become human in their eyes.” –Grethe Cammermeyer